Insights
Want to be sure your employees hear and take action on your messages? We can help.

Help Your Managers Master These Three Essential Skills

Danielle Foley, Senior Communication Consultant

The relationship between a manager and an employee looks a lot different these days. Before the pandemic, the idea of asking employees what was happening in their lives outside of work wasn’t considered appropriate for the workplace, and it might even have been frowned upon by Human Resources.

Times have definitely changed. It took a global pandemic to upend the notion that work and home lives should be siloed. We now acknowledge that it’s impossible—and, frankly, not good for our mental health—to try to separate the worker from the human being doing the work.

And so managers are being encouraged to check in with employees, be more understanding of life circumstances that could affect work performance, and offer support in a variety of ways.

But not all managers intuitively know how to support their employees beyond the workplace. They need more training in three critical skills:

  1. Showing empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. A recent Forbes article calls empathy the leadership competency to develop and demonstrate now and in the future of work.

Help managers show more empathy by encouraging them to:

  • Hold regular check-ins to find out how people are doing. Some experts recommend asking employees to rate their well-being at these check-ins from 1 to 10 as a way to avoid the “I’m fine” response.
  • Create a psychologically safe work environment—one where people feel they can be themselves and won’t be embarrassed, rejected, or humiliated for speaking up.
  • Listen, without distraction, to what employees need for work and life.
  • Acknowledge that employees’ lived experience may vary widely from person to person – depending on gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc.
  • Share relatable personal experiences with their own mental health or coping with stress.
  • Make sure meetings begin with some non-work talk to help foster connection.
  • Regularly ask for feedback.
  • Practice giving the benefit of the doubt.
  • Show gratitude for employees. Celebrate their accomplishments and recognize a job well done.
  1. Having conversations about mental health

According to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, 3 in 5 employees reported classic symptoms of burnout, including lack of interest, motivation or energy, and lack of effort at work. So, while managers are not trained counselors, it’s clear that talking about mental health at work is now imperative.

Employers can make it easier for managers to have these emotional conversations by providing tip sheets, training, toolkits, or job aids that:

  • Educate managers about what mental health is and how to spot signs that an employee may be struggling
  • Share tips for what to say and what not to say when speaking with employees
  • Bring awareness to the casual use of stigmatizing words and phrases like crazy, lobotomy, bipolar, out of their mind, OCD, psycho, PTSD, schitzo, mental, etc.
  • List the resources the company provides to help employees, like counseling through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), stress management classes, resilience tools, and mindfulness/meditation apps
  • Let managers know what kinds of accommodations are within their power, such as allowing alternate work schedules, and where they might need to involve HR (e.g., leave of absence)
  1. Being a good resource for employees

When asked “What’s the first place you go to for information on your benefits?” employees often answer, “My manager.” This means managers must have a good understanding of the benefits and resources offered by the company. And, if managers can’t answer a question, they need to know where to point the employee to get more information.

Here are some ways to make sure managers have all the information they need at their fingertips:

  • Create a mental health resource guide, listing websites and phone numbers for all the mental health services provided by the company – EAPs, behavioral health benefits through the medical plan, virtual mental health care benefits, and text/chat counseling apps.
  • Educate managers on all the types of leave that are available, including parental or caregiving leave, paid time off, short- and long-term disability, volunteer time off, mental health days, and bereavement leave.
  • During annual enrollment, create a managers’ toolkit or hold a manager webinar that highlights major benefits changes for the upcoming year, whether there will be an increase in employee contributions, and when and how to enroll.
  • Hold a live demonstration for managers that shows where to find more information about benefits and resources on the company intranet or vendor websites.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Given the increased demands of supporting employees while also managing their own workload, burnout among managers is a real risk. So as work and family demands start to ramp up this fall, it’s a good idea to take stock of the support you’re providing to your managers. The O’Keefe Group can help. Contact us for more information.

 

Six Steps to Level Up Your Benefits Enrollment Communications

Tammy Kleinman, Senior Communication Consultant

If you’re a Human Resources communicator, you’re probably knee-deep in planning for Benefits Annual Enrollment right now. It’s a busy time of year for HR teams because this is your annual opportunity to make a splash. Now is the time to not only help employees make informed decisions, but to market the holistic benefits package your company offers — and remind employees about the value and support you provide. Here are six steps to ensure you meet your Annual Enrollment communication goals this fall.

  1. Meet employees where they are.

Be sensitive to what your employees are going through right now. As a result of the economy and recent political events, employees are taking a closer look at the benefits they get at work. In the tight labor market, employer benefits are also taking center stage when making employment decisions. So even if employees don’t have to actively enroll, remind them about the entire benefits package you offer. They will appreciate hearing about hot topics, like:

  • Financial wellness benefits and support tools
  • Time off and remote work policies
  • Mental health benefits and resources
  • Family-building support for same-sex couples
  • Coverage for travel services related to abortion
  • Healthcare in support of the LGBTQ+ community, such as gender transition, targeted therapy, and other inclusive services.
  1. Communicate the why.

Healthcare premiums will be going up for many employees this year. Even in non-inflationary times, cost increases can be a hard pill to swallow. Remind employees that costs are increasing everywhere, and benefits are no exception. Let them know how much you’re contributing, so they understand your investment in their healthcare as well.

The past year has fostered some soul searching for employees and companies alike. Chances are you’re making some changes based on employee feedback. In your communications, note the areas in which you’ve invested this year, and why.

Did employees ask for better reproductive care, virtual health care, or more robust mental health resources? Did you adjust your plans to better align with company values? Are you working to better address employees’ diverse needs? All of these issues are trending right now, and the more transparent you can be about your decision-making process, the more engaged your employees will be.

  1. Keep the hybrid experience in mind.

We’re all still figuring out how to optimize the hybrid work environment. Here are a few activities that can help bridge the gap between remote employees and those in the office:

  • Have a virtual benefits fair – this allows participants to log into different rooms to learn about various benefits and the enrollment process. But be sure to keep your in-person benefits fair, too. Employees appreciate the opportunity to talk directly to a representative.
  • Record webinars and Q&A sessions – this allows employees to watch the sessions at their leisure. Plus, if the primary decision maker is not the employee, they can watch it at home with other family members.
  • Offer incentives to attend in person. If, like many companies, you are struggling to bring people back into the office, consider offering an incentive gift or raffle to draw people in.
  1. Level up your digital game.

Employee expectations are higher than ever before, so aim for a consumer-grade digital experience. View your Annual Enrollment communications as an integrated marketing campaign, complete with graphics, targeted audiences, tactics, and metrics. For example, it’s a good idea to create an enrollment brand that has a unique look and feel, as well as a tagline and key messages.

Work with a savvy digital design team to leverage your brand across all the media you use. Think digital first, since it’s cost-effective and available to most users – but don’t forget the people without access to every tool, such as family members and mobile workers. Here are a few creative ideas to spark your imagination:

  • Create a Slack channel dedicated to Annual Enrollment. The channel should be monitored by a benefits specialist who can answer questions and respond promptly to employee concerns.
  • Leverage social media channels and collaboration software like Workplace and SocialChorus.
  • Build a simple website with various benefits “paths.” Make the site available outside the company firewall, in case the health care decision-maker is not the employee.
  • Offer a “what’s changing” infographic, sent via email or in a mailer to homes, so employees can get a quick snapshot of the decisions they need to make.
  • Don’t forget the analog route. If you go “old school” with print materials sent to homes the entire family can review their benefits materials together.
  1. Keep it simple and action oriented.

As always, getting and keeping employees’ attention can be a challenge. So start with your end goal in mind. What do you want people to think, feel or do after reading your communication? Then, use as few words as possible to get your point across. Keep the information brief, visual, and jargon-free. Take your cues from consumer media outlets, like TikTok, Twitter, and Netflix. Use “teaser” content wherever possible and provide links to more details.

This article has more great tips for keeping things simple.

  1. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Employees, like all of us, are inundated with information both inside and outside of work. As much as we’d like them to read everything we write, it’s just not realistic to assume that they will. So you’ll need to keep the communications flowing – before, during, and after the Annual Enrollment period. Continue to repeat critical information, such as decision points and deadlines, throughout the season.

Benefits Annual Enrollment season is a great time to connect with employees and drive them to action. But integrating all the media channels available to you, crystalizing your message, and developing an appropriate cadence of communications – all while meeting high employee expectations – is a big job. If you need support creating or executing your integrated marketing plan, contact us.

 

# # #

2023 Annual Enrollment: Consider These Enhancements to Shore Up Attraction and Retention

Danielle Foley, Senior Communication Consultant

Annual enrollment for 2023 employee benefits is right around the corner. This year, as businesses continue to grapple with labor shortages, retention issues, and a burned-out, disengaged workforce, it’s more important than ever to offer a benefits package that meets employees’ needs across all aspects of their well-being.

After a couple of years of relatively few changes in benefits, a recent report by Mercer found that over two-thirds of U.S. employers plan to enhance health and benefits offerings in 2023 to improve talent attraction and retention.

What kinds of enhancements are employers making?  

More expansive mental health benefits

Employees have made it clear they need more mental health benefits to help them cope with stress and burnout. In addition to traditional free counseling sessions through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), employers are adding:

  • New ways to receive counseling like text/chat apps and virtual mental health visits
  • Mental health training for managers to help them support their people
  • Access to mindfulness, meditation, sleep support, resilience training, and stress management tools
  • Mental health days or additional paid time off

Wellness-infused workplaces

Now that people have had a taste of remote working, employers have struggled to get them back to the office. To entice them, employers are offering things like:

  • Thoughtfully designed workplaces that bring the outdoors in (biophilia)
  • New workspaces to allow for collaboration and focused work
  • Access to walking trails or meditation spaces
  • Nutrition support—grab-and-go dinners from the cafeteria, meal kit services, etc.
  • Wellness challenges
  • Well-being-focused Employee Resource Groups
  • On-site gyms and cafes

Flexibility

A recent ManpowerGroup survey found that nearly 40 percent of global candidates say schedule flexibility is now among the top three factors they consider when making career decisions. In addition to hybrid work arrangements, some employers will also offer:

  • Compressed or four-day workweeks
  • Alternative work hours that align better with family responsibilities or personal productivity
  • Unlimited paid time off
  • Choice and control in work shifts for those who can’t work from home, including self-scheduling, shift-swapping, part-time work, and job sharing
  • No-meeting Fridays

Family-friendly benefits and reproductive support

In the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, scores of organizations have added benefits like paying for travel expenses of employees who must seek abortions outside their home state, additional paid time off for recovery and pre-/post-abortion counseling, legal assistance, and more.

More employers are adding family-friendly benefits like parental leave for both parents, onsite childcare, backup childcare, help with elder care, and caregiving leave.

Finally, employers are also responding to employees’ desire for more help with family-building, in the form of surrogacy, adoption, and fertility benefits.

Financial wellness support

With inflation, soaring gas prices, and a potential recession on the horizon, employees are feeling insecure about the future. Employers will expand support to include budgeting tools, short-term loans, student loan debt repayment plans, and continued help with retirement planning. There’s also a push to provide new pay options—like pay cycle choice, payday loans, or “earned wage access” programs, which allow employees to access their money as soon as they’ve earned it.

Expanded access to virtual healthcare

Since the pandemic began, telemedicine has become very popular. Employers are responding by expanding their virtual care repertoire. The Mercer report found over half of large employers will offer virtual behavioral health care in 2023, and 40% will offer a virtual Primary Care Physician (PCP) network or service.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Whatever benefits changes you implement this year, making sure employees know about and appreciate them is key. Communication is especially important today, as workers increasingly decide to stay with a current employer or join a new company based on support for their total well-being. If you’d like some guidance about how to communicate the value of your benefits to employees, contact us.

Q&A with TIAA: How One Fortune 500 Company Is Keeping Employees Engaged During Turbulent Times

The ongoing pandemic, economic and social turmoil, and the shift to hybrid work environments are all pushing us to seek meaningful connections in the workplace.  Recently, we sat down with Michelle Richitelli, Senior Vice President of Internal Communications at TIAA, to learn about how one Fortune 500 company is managing the upheaval of the current moment, and how it has evolved its associate engagement and communications strategy in response.

Q:  During the past two years, company leaders had to really shift how they were interacting with their people and change their approaches to keeping them engaged. What changes did you make during the pandemic that you think you’ll keep?

A: As we’ve seen, there’s no playbook for how to create connections during unprecedented times. Above all, we need to stay agile and flexible and respond to what our people need in the moment.

We’ve learned that we need to invest in communications, and really over-communicate when people feel uncomfortable – especially when we don’t have all the answers. The volume and frequency of our communications have increased, and we plan to maintain this pace.

So there are three main things we’re doing more of these days to support these shifts:

Equipping leaders to engage with their teams

As we’ve always done, we took a very high-touch approach to associate engagement at TIAA. First, because senior leaders needed to connect with associates more deeply than ever, we equipped them with training and resources on how to engage their people. We created dedicated sessions for managers, resource guides on how to connect with associates remotely, and how to manage performance remotely. I’m particularly proud of the discussion guides we provided that detailed how to create space to talk to associates about world events in a way that’s not divisive. These tools continue to help us navigate through tough times and strengthen diversity and inclusion.

Getting people talking

We’ve initiated a number of different information sessions that have been very successful in addressing people’s concerns about their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as the state of the company.

We realized we needed to create an environment where people can be okay with not being okay. For example, we hosted a panel of our most senior leaders to address mental health in the workplace. During the sessions, the leaders opened up about their personal or family challenges and reminded us that mental health affects everyone in some way. Thousands of people joined the session, which helped people engage with our leaders on a much more personal level than they had previously.

Asking for feedback

We have always sought out feedback from our employees, through surveys, Q&A sessions, and panel discussions. During the pandemic, we increased our efforts in this area, and we continue these efforts – implementing lots of surveys on our new ways of working and other changes happening throughout the company.

 

Q: How is the hybrid work arrangement going? How are you enticing people back into the office?

A: Hybrid work is a work in progress. We’re all trying to figure it out. During our two-year, forced social experiment, people got very comfortable being fully remote. Many have become disillusioned with commuter culture and don’t want to come into the office without a good reason to be there. So we had to be very intentional about striking that balance between creating opportunities for in-person collaboration and providing the flexibility that people want and need. We believe that both aspects are critical to our culture and business success.

Staying flexible

When we implemented our new hybrid work arrangements, we did it very gradually. We started with voluntary waves, then moved to general guidelines, rather than strict rules about when to be in the office. We gave people grace, and a long window of time, if they were not ready or able to be back in the office yet. We asked associates to try to be in the office for 2-4 days, but leaders could make specific decisions for their teams. Some leaders are using “anchor days,” asking everyone to try to be in the office on the same day or days per week. Overall, our approach is still evolving.

Upgrading facilities

We’ve invested in our office spaces to modernize them. They are now open and bright – and we’ve created different types of spaces, so people can work in groups or individually. We’ve also stepped up our food and coffee options, opened onsite gyms in some locations, and we offer social Thursdays with wine and beer. We’ve also introduced workplace services teams in many of our locations, who provide concierge services. They greet associates when they arrive, help people book rooms, order lunch, and manage the facilities among many other responsibilities.

Gathering associate testimonials

We’re doing a lot of internal marketing of our new policies and services to entice people back. For example, we’ve asked associates to provide video testimonials about how they’re making hybrid work for them personally. It’s helping to draw people back in, but we still have work to do. We understand that it will take time for people to adjust to the new way of working.

 

Q: What new ways of communicating have you initiated to maintain engagement with associates? 

A: We realized that we need to be conscious of both the in-person and online experience of our associates on any given day. So we’ve instituted a number of new channels, including onsite digital screens in common areas, a newsletter devoted to new ways of working, and several different virtual information sessions.

These sessions include a regular meeting led by the HR team to help answer associate questions about current topics, as well as sessions for people managers, to learn about things like benefits and facilities.

In the past year, we’ve also introduced several new senior leaders and updated our business strategy. So in addition to regular town hall meetings, we have a bimonthly Q&A session called “Ask the EC” which is led by our C-suite leaders and focuses on topics directly related to the business.

All of these information sessions have been very popular with associates, and we plan to continue to evolve them going forward.

 

Q: What advice do you have for communications and HR professionals, who are at the center of all the shifts at work?

A: First, remain flexible and open to change – because change is a constant. Also, because so much of change management falls to HR and Communications professionals and the volume of work for these teams has increased, we have to be very cognizant of our own mental health. Take the time you need to recharge and take care of yourself so that when you come back to work, you can take care of your people.

Thank you, Michelle, for taking the time to speak with us. It sounds like TIAA is doing a lot of great work to keep employees engaged, and we appreciate the insights.

 

 

5 Content and Design Hacks That Will Make Your Message Stand Out

Tammy Kleinman, Senior Communication Consultant

Information overload bogging you down? You’re not alone.

That’s why, if you want your own communications to make an impact, you need to connect with your readers. That means creating concise, jargon-free, and actionable copy, whether you’re writing an email, a presentation, a newsletter or a social post.

And the way your content looks on the page is just as important as the words themselves, because graphic design and content work hand in hand.

In today’s hyper-visual world, graphic design can make or break your message. It can be a catalyst, moving people to action – or it can work against you, simply adding to digital clutter.

Research shows that “chunking” content – breaking it into smaller bites, presenting a few sentences at a time – is the best way to help readers digest it and make it easier to retain and recall.

Adding well-chosen design elements such as color, white space, and images makes it easier for the reader to navigate the page and helps you get your message across.

Here are five communication hacks that are proven to engage readers and get results:

  1. Draw readers in with an intro they can relate to – and use large, easy-to-read type.
  2. Focus on a single subject or program.
  3. Keep it simple – ditch the jargon and bloated syntax.
  4. Create visual interest with photos and icons.
  5. Break up the page with white space, bullet points, and color.

 

Design elements in action

Here’s a piece we created to help a health care company communicate its generous time-off policies. The piece appeared on multiple internal social and intranet channels and was credited with improving employee retention at the peak of the pandemic – a time when burnout, and the resulting potential for turnover, was high.

Take a look at how design and content work together to promote the company’s time off program effectively:

 

Great design doesn’t have to be flashy or expensive. In fact, a clean, simple, fixed design is often more effective – and less distracting – than one with embedded videos, popups, and animations.

So the next time you need to get the word out to your people, consider both what you’re saying, and how you’re saying it.

If you need help breaking through the communications clutter, The O’Keefe Group’s communication team can help. Contact us to learn more.

3 Ways to Promote Better Mental Health in the Workplace

Danielle Foley, Senior Communication Consultant

 

The state of our collective mental health is not good.

People across the U.S. were struggling with mental health concerns before the

pandemic, but the isolation, uncertainty, economic instability, and fear we’ve all experienced have brought the issue to the forefront.

Employees naturally bring the stressors of life into the workplace with them. Which is why today’s workplaces have a bigger role to play in helping employees better manage their mental health. And it’s not necessarily about adding more mental health benefits or apps.

So how can employers help?

Here are three ways employers can “lean in” to support employee mental health:

1. Provide benefits that care for the whole employee.

Traditional benefits like health care and 401(k) plans are important, but employees also need help with:

  • Caregiving—Think onsite childcare, back-up childcare, parental leave for both parents, phased transitions back to work for new mothers, etc.
  • Finances—Financial concerns are cited as one of the most common causes of employee stress. Financial wellness programs that help employees manage debt or create a budget can take the weight off.
  • Time off—Sadly, American workers just don’t take enough time off. Some employers now mandate company-wide time off; others offer unlimited PTO, volunteer time off, sabbaticals, and caregiving leave to encourage employees to decompress.

2. Make changes to workplace culture.

Experts agree that a huge source of employee stress comes from the unwritten rules that make up workplace culture. Set the tone for a more “human-centered” workplace by giving employees:

  • Flexibility—The freedom to set working hours that work best for their own productivity and the demands of home and family is the number one “job perk” employees want today. This also includes the flexibility to work remotely or in a hybrid model.
  • Permission to put up “work boundaries”—Allow employees to set clear expectations for working hours, dictate when they will respond to email, and schedule time off during the day for exercise, meditation, or to attend a family event. Encourage employees to note these in their email signatures or out-of-office notifications.

3. Promote the mental health benefits you already offer.

If you work for a large company, chances are good that your company already offers benefits to help with mental health, like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or stress management classes. You may simply need better packaging and promotion to get employees to take advantage of these resources.

Some tactics to consider:

  • Identify mental health champions in the organization to get the conversation going on workplace social media about mental health and the benefits the company offers.

Regularly promote mental health benefits in e-newsletters, town halls, and on the intranet.

  • Host events, webinars, and guest speakers in conjunction with May’s Mental Health Awareness Month or World Mental Health Day on October 10.
  • Spotlight mental health resources during annual enrollment when employees are already focused on their benefits.
  • Utilize video testimonials. Storytelling is a great way to encourage employees to share their good experiences with the EAP and other mental health benefits.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Employees are much more vocal these days about the need for a work culture that supports their mental health and holistic well-being. In fact, many are prepared to leave their current employer for one who offers these benefits. So instead of thinking about the cost of adding new offerings to a benefits package, employers would do well to consider the long-term cost of turnover and employee engagement.

If you’d like some help thinking through how you can promote better mental health in your organization, contact us.

Talking about Mental Health at Work: 3 Tips to Make It Easier

Danielle Foley, Senior Communication Consultant

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and it affects how we perform at work. So why aren’t we talking about it there?

We’d tell our boss if we had a cold or surgery coming up. But bringing up our emotional wellness? For any of us that feels like crossing a line.

There is a stigma when it comes to talking about mental health at work. It might be that we don’t want to be perceived as unstable or incapable. We may be worried about getting fired. Or we’ve been conditioned to keep a “stiff upper lip” and just “push through.”

A recent Harvard Business Review article relates: “because professionalism has long been associated with being stoic, rational, and unemotional…most people are used to passing up opportunities to discuss emotions and build authentic connections at work.”

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, sums it up well: “Many people believe that whatever their mental health challenges are, they don’t belong in the workplace.”[1]

Yet given the shocking state of mental health in the U.S., we know these discussions are absolutely critical.

How can you start to normalize talking about mental health in your organization? We have a few suggestions.

  1. Create safe spaces.
  • Mental Health Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) provide a forum for discussing mental health and elevating awareness across the organization.
  • One-on-one meetings between a manager and a direct report should start with a pulse check of how things are going—both at work and at home.
  • Team huddles should include 5-10 minutes of talk about what’s going on in people’s lives and how they’re feeling.
  • Workplace social media groups dedicated to mental health get the conversation out in the open and allow employees to share their experiences.
  1. Give managers the right skills and tools.

Just because someone is a manager doesn’t mean they have the skills—or the appetite—to talk with employees about sensitive issues like mental health. Here’s where some training and skill-building come in. The goal is not for managers to become mental health counselors, but rather, to help them talk with employees about their concerns and point them in the right direction to get more help.

A short online course, toolkit, or series of tip sheets can help managers feel more comfortable in this space. Topics could include:

  • Why mental health is so important;
  • What to do if you notice signs an employee may be struggling;
  • Tips for what to say and what not to say; and
  • Education about the mental health resources and benefits available at your company.
  1. Make sure leaders walk the talk.

As with any behavior change at work, employees may be reluctant to start talking about mental health until they hear their leaders talking about it too. Hearing a person in a position of authority and power tell a story about mental health helps build a culture of compassion and empowers employees to speak up about their own experiences. Videos and town halls are two forums where this kind of storytelling works well.

Leaders should also model good mental health habits themselves – like blocking time on their calendars for exercise, meditation, or family time; disconnecting while on vacation; and setting clear work boundaries. These cultural cues give employees “permission” to prioritize mental health in their own lives.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

As many say these days, there are some good things that have come out of our experience with the pandemic. Raising awareness about the importance of mental health is one of them. We’ve still got some work to do when it comes to talking openly about it in the workplace. But with continued focus, addressing mental health will soon be recognized as a key part of employees’ overall wellbeing.

Tackling A Graphic Design Project?

Here’s How to Avoid Pitfalls & Keeps Costs Down

JoAnne Stauss, Head of Creative Operations

In our hyper-visual world, good design is critical. An infographic, benefits guide, or important presentation will get far more attention if it’s clean, attractive and easy to navigate. This requires a talented designer, of course. But like any project, it also involves a sound strategy, a detailed plan, strong project management and good communication – what we call ‘strategic design.’

Here are some tips to help you achieve a brilliant mix of content and design, while avoiding unpleasant surprises and added costs.

Step 1: Create a draft (and maybe an outline)

The best way to keep your project timetable and budget on track is to work incrementally and obtain necessary approvals at each step. That frequently means creating a draft in Microsoft Word first (or a PowerPoint, minus any graphics).

If you’re developing a detailed document such as a manager’s toolkit or open enrollment guide, we recommend starting with an outline that shows high-level content for each section. After you’ve gotten the necessary approvals on your outline, the first draft can begin.

In the draft, include a table of contents, clearly and consistently format the heading hierarchy, and begin each chapter on a new page for easy review. Think about how you can create content in a way that will easily translate into a user-friendly design:

  • Chunk up copy using bullets, subheads, callouts and charts.
  • Be consistent: Does each section have an introductory copy? Callouts?
  • If the final document needs to link to other resources, think through how that will work for readers.
  • Add design notes to help the graphic team understand your vision.

Remember that content changes should be made during this phase whenever possible, because it’s easier (i.e., less costly) to do this before the design phase.

Step 2: Schedule a design meeting

This is the time to discuss your design needs and preferences and confirm your budget and production schedule.  Review samples of comparable projects, decide what you like and don’t like to get a sense of what design elements align with your organization’s visual style.

Questions to consider:

  • Will the document be printed, sent digitally, or both? If printed, will it be mailed?
  • Will photos be included? Icons? What types of images are appropriate for this content and audience? Is there an asset library?
  • For digital documents, do you need navigation? How will it be treated/located? Is a table of contents also needed? Is a footer needed on each page?
  • What are your organization’s brand guidelines?

Step 3: Engage a designer

Now it’s time to bring in a graphic designer. The project lead will share everything that came out of your earlier conversations, including brand guidelines, format, channel/delivery method, and content that needs special treatment. It’s also a good time to discuss turnaround time and any “red flags” that could impact the budget.

Step 4: Review the concept

The fun part! Once the designer has decided on the direction, you’ll preview the design concept sample (“comp”), which provides a sense of the look and feel for the entire piece.

For a detailed document – an employee benefits manual or multi-section slide deck, for example – the comp typically includes a template for key design elements: cover options, navigation, and an inside spread sample that includes section headings, subheadings, bulleted lists, charts, callouts, icons, and photos.

Your feedback at this stage is essential to avoiding rework and keeping costs in line. Your team should discuss the impact of any changes, additions, and next steps. Design tweaks are best made in this phase because once the document is fully designed, the cost of making changes can increase significantly.

Step 5: Marry the content and design

 After you approve the final copy and design concept, the design team lays out the full document. This is the time to have a professional communicator review the piece again, engage a professional proofreader to ensure the final product is flawless, and make any final modifications.

Merging great content with brilliant design can be a lot of fun – but it’s important to take a strategic approach to ensure you hit the mark. At The O’Keefe Group, we have decades of experience partnering with clients and designers to ensure you get a product that’s beautiful, clean and targeted to your unique audience. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you with your next project.

5 Tips to Help Your Team Build Storytelling Skills

By Laura Singer, Senior Communication Consultant

Storytelling is a terrific tool to engage an audience—whether that audience is a single business partner in another function or an employee population of thousands.

For most people, telling stories in a business environment doesn’t come naturally, because it requires un-learning a lot of the ways we’ve been taught to communicate in the workplace. But storytelling is a skill that can deliver huge benefits.

We’re firm believers that storytelling should start at the top, but it shouldn’t end there. In fact, all employees have the capacity to tell a good story. And with the right approach, you can help them build this muscle. Here are some tips:

  1.     Start with a workshop.

A training session is the best way to kick off your storytelling initiative. By its very nature, storytelling is a compelling workshop topic, with lots of opportunity for fun facts, engaging examples and interactivity. In a workshop, participants can learn what makes a good story and why. More importantly, workshops can give participants the confidence they need to add stories to their day to day activities, and bring the value of their work to life in a new, compelling way.

  1.     Model storytelling.

As a manager, you have to walk the talk. One of the best ways to develop storytelling skills in your team is by example. Following your workshop, have a couple stories in hand to share with your team, and  model this behavior on a regular basis.

  1.     Ensure ample opportunity to practice.

Encourage your people to integrate a story into their presentations, or write a newsletter article to showcase a recent accomplishment. Challenge them to tell a story when working on a multidisciplinary project as a way to build trust and break down silos. Practice is the best way to become a better storyteller. In fact, it’s the only way.

  1. Offer encouragement and feedback.

Not all stories will hit the mark, especially when people are starting out. Help your team members hone their storytelling skills by giving them  feedback. Start with what the storyteller did well, and then tell them where they could have made the story more compelling and memorable.

  1.     Reward and recognize excellence.

If you want to promote the use of storytelling, make sure to recognize a job well done. This sends a message to effective storytellers that you value their work. Then you can take the opportunity to share examples of what good storytelling looks like.

Would you like to reap the benefits of storytelling at work? The O’Keefe Group can help you customize and conduct storytelling training sessions to fit the needs of your organization.

5 Reasons Why Storytelling Works at Work

By Laura Singer, Senior Communication Consultant

True story: Once there was a leadership team for a support function in a large global corporation. All the members were asked to create a story that communicated the value their work brought to the enterprise. But all came up short.  Their stories lacked characters, emotions and a narrative arc. They were a litany of the usual corporate talking points.

The moral of this story is that storytelling is easier said than done.

For most of us, storytelling in the workplace does not come naturally. In fact, storytelling forces us to unlearn a lot of what we do to communicate in our jobs. We’re trained to be succinct and stick to the facts. We focus on metrics, not people. Storytelling is the Un-PowerPoint. It’s the Non-Elevator Speech.

While slide decks and elevator speeches are important tools, good stories have a capacity to engage the audience in a way that other types of communication do not.

In our next blog, we’ll provide some tips for helping employees flex this little-used muscle. In the meantime, here are five reasons to make storytelling part of your communications toolbox.

  1. Storytelling builds trust

A common theme in corporate storytelling involves a person or team overcoming an obstacle—and this is something everyone can identify with. When we see ourselves in the characters, we experience empathy. So, the very act of telling a story makes people trust you more, helping to build and strengthen partnerships.

  1. Storytelling helps break through silos

Stories create connections, spark dialogue, and spotlight similarities, not differences. For example, If IT and HR need to partner on a project, they may bring different mindsets, ways of working, and even their own vocabulary. Stories break through the jargon, help people find common ground, and allow for a real exchange of ideas.

  1. Storytelling communicates value

Through vivid examples, stories allow you to show – not just tell – how your team or function contributes to the overall success of the enterprise. For example, we recently worked with a Global Privacy team to show how safeguarding customer data can lead to innovation and growth in other parts of the business.

  1. Storytelling simplifies complex information

Stories make abstract concepts concrete and understandable. This is especially important when you’re trying to engage those outside your own functional area who may not share your level of expertise. And stories help to demystify new initiatives — a merger, a change in employee benefits, a new legal requirement, for example— by providing scenarios and characters that folks can relate to.

  1. Storytelling is data’s best friend

Data doesn’t change behavior — emotions do. Research has shown that after a presentation, 63% of the audience remembered the story while only 5% remembered the statistics. By wrapping your numbers within a story, you have a better chance of getting attention and driving action.

Does your organization have stories that need to be told? The O’Keefe Group is here to help.